Journal News 10/2/16: Auctioned Reform Temple in ER to Become Satmar School

Auctioned Reform temple to become Satmar school

The property was auctioned off in June.

RAMAPO – The former Temple Beth El property on Viola Road has been sold to the United Talmudical Academy of Monsey, a Satmar organization.Once a focal point of Reform Judaism in Rockland, the property at 415 Viola Road in the unincorporated section of the Town of Ramapo was auctioned off in June.

More than 100 prospective buyers expressed interest in the 32,000-square-foot building on a 5.6 acre lot, and four bidders filed their bids at or above $8 million, said Joshua Olshin, managing partner for AuctionAdvisors, which administered the auction.

The winning bid, $9.196 million, was “very far in excess of expectation,” Olshin said.

Olshin didn’t make the winning bidder’s name available immediately after the auction, saying the sale was pending approval from the state Attorney General’s Office. Such approval was necessary to finalize the sale because the owner of the property, the Reform Temple of Rockland, is a non-profit organization, Olshin said at that time. The Attorney General’s Charities Bureau is responsible for supervising charitable organizations.

The state agency approved the sale last week, and the transaction was recorded with the Rockland County Clerk’s Office on Tuesday.

The buyer, United Talmudical Academy, has been running schools in Spring Valley and Ramapo, as well as in the village of Kiryas Joel and in Brooklyn.

Read more…

Strong East Ramapo 9/23/16: Additional Insurance Cost Will Further Burden ER

Actions of the ERCSD school board have resulted in millions of dollars lost to the children’s education, which has harmed the children and resulted in extra expense to taxpayers, who are having to pay for services to East Ramapo.  On this topic, Strong East Ramapo reported:

“In 2011, the School District entered into an energy performance contract with Johnson Controls, Inc. to install numerous energy efficient controls and devices throughout the School District’s buildings. It seems that no actual contract was signed and approved by both parties. The School District was unable to secure financing for the project and was unaware that work had commenced. Johnson Controls claims to have done close to $1.9 million of work. The School District believed it should not be required to pay Johnson Controls the required amount as funding was not secured prior to Johnson commencing work done. This matter proceeded to mediation. The mediation session took place on Monday, September 12, 2016. There is now a Board approved agreement between the School District and Johnson Controls to pay $1 million over a five-year period starting in fiscal year 2017-18. The School District’s 2017-18 proposed budget will include the first payment of $200,000.”

In 2015, the East Ramapo School Board sued its insurer, New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal (NYSIR), to cover $2.23 million in legal fees the district owed its defense teams, the New York State Supreme Court ruled last year that the district was overcharged by $2 million, saying “a reasonable fee for the legal services provided is $187,500.

“In April 2016 New York State Insurance Reciprocal (NYSIR) made a decision to drop coverage for East Ramapo Central School District. This decision negatively impacted the School District as it had to seek new insurance coverage in a very short time notice. There was no single insurer that offered to commit in insuring our School District. The insurance costs increased by over $900,000 on annual basis. The School District will continue working to identify efficiencies to accommodate this additional cost for the fiscal year 2017-18 and beyond.”


Journal News 9/26/16: Full Day K to Begin Oct. 6 in ERCSD

$3M E. Ramapo plan OK; full-day K begins Oct. 6

Full-day kindergarten and other programs will start Oct. 6

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Monday that she had given her blessing to the plan, and also said she would join state-appointed monitors Charles Szuberla and John Sipple at a public meeting to discuss the initiatives at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Rockland Community College’s Cultural Arts Center, 145 College Road, Ramapo.

Full-day kindergarten and other programs will start Oct. 6, according to a district spokesperson.

The district conducted its own public hearing to receive community input on the expenditure plan on Sept. 7. The school board approved the plan on Sept. 13 and it was submitted to Elia on Sept. 20.

Read more…

Strong East Ramapo 9/29/16: Report on Meeting with Superintendent Wortham on Plan for $2.4 million Grant to Chestnut Ridge

Here is the report from Andrew Mandel of Strong East Ramapo on his 9/29/16 meeting with Superintendent Wortham and others regarding the plan for spending of the $2.4 million grant to Chestnut Ridge Middle School over 5 years:

Hi everyone,

The Journal News recently reported that, because of its status as a “priority” school due to very low performance, Chestnut Ridge Middle School had received a $2.4 million grant over five years for improvement.  But how is the money going to be spent?  Community members raised concerns to me about the potential for mismanagement, so I met today with Superintendent Wortham, Principal Vergez of Chestnut Ridge Middle School, Dr. Shanahan and Merritte Mellion of the Funded Programs department, as well as Dr. Cheryl Atkinson (New York State Assistant Commissioner for Office of Innovation and School Reform), to learn more.

Here are my initial discoveries:

1. How is the money being used? The district is partnering with the International Baccalaurate (IB) Middle Years program to revamp instruction for students and professional development for teachers. IB is a renowned program that holds very high expectations for students, emphasizes critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and real-world applications of learning. It’s considered by some to be the Cadillac of curriculum. If done well, it means students can expect more engaging, thoughtful lessons that are similar to classrooms at some of the top schools around the world. Right now, in Rockland County, only the Clarkstown High Schools have IB programs.
2. How far will this money go?  A large chunk of the money is being spent on training teachers, paying teachers to develop new lessons for students, and appointing a coordinator that will monitor and coach teachers ongoing to improve their instruction.  It’s fair to expect that this is an investment that will continue to pay off after the grant expires because the lessons that teachers develop and practices that teachers use do not require nearly the same amount of money to maintain as they do to initiate on the front end. And, if it’s successful, CRMS can be a demonstration site for other schools. The plan also calls for elementary schools to also build in IB programming so that students have an on-ramp to the more rigorous standards.  Dr. Wortham and Dr. Shanahan said it is the district’s longer-term aim to provide IB programming across all grades, through the high school level.
3. What other options did the district have? The district could have elected to take a different course of action with CRMS given federal law, including firing the principal and half the staff. However, Dr. Wortham explained that the data suggests that the problem at CRMS is more systemic than a single school.  Rather than starting over with a new staff or focus solely on low-level assignments for students who are far behind, she decided instead to raise standards and expectations for students and teachers.  Meanwhile, parents of students in CRMS should have received a letter informing them of their rights to transfer schools from CRMS to a different district school, like Kakiat, if they wanted. Dr. Wortham was not sure how many families elected to do so, but thought it was a few.
4. Will students be ready for the higher standards?  Part of the reason IB is well-timed is because, for the first time, CRMS has also just qualified as a Title I school (with more than 40 percent of students from low-income families). This means that it receives additional funds to implement programs such as extended learning time and Saturday school.  Principal Vergez said she anticipates 12 Saturday school sessions this coming year, likely starting in November. She first needs to find sufficient staff to prepare for the large number of students who could use the extra help, and she intends to request for student transportation from the Title 1 budget.  This should create the opportunity for students to have more learning time, so as to meet the standards set by IB.
5. When will the changes start?  Dr. Shanahan said he was working with district staff this week to put together a specific timeline for implementing the plan, which will unfold over a number of years because it really does represent a transformation in how teaching and learning will happen at the middle school.  I will check in periodically with him and Principal Vergez to learn how things are going. The state will be evaluating progress every year and will stop payment if the grant is being mishandled. Success hinges on effective leadership from district administrators and teachers to learn the IB philosophy and methods well, and then follow through effectively in the lessons they prepare and deliver.  It will also require parents to ensure that their students take advantage of the extended learning time.
6. So, is this a good thing?  All told, this plan looks sound to me and certainly a far cry from the understandable skepticism that funds might be misused; non-public schools have nothing to do with these funds.  Indeed, I think we should be very encouraged by the aspiration to infuse the International Baccalaureate program in East Ramapo. It would be quite a welcome irony if our district became a leader in the county for such an approach.   While we’ve reasonably been focused on full-day kindergarten and elementary arts, this plan gives an important focus to those critical middle years of a child’s education. I am quick to name when the district is falling short, but this appears to be a plan to celebrate.
If you have thoughts, concerns or questions, send them my way.
Have a good evening,

Journal News 9/15/16: Chestnut Ridge Middle School Awarded $2.4 Million for Improvements

Struggling East Ramapo middle school gets $2.4M grant

An East Ramapo middle school is one of 39 struggling schools across the state to receive federal grants to help pull itself into better standing.

An East Ramapo middle school is one of 39 struggling schools across the state to receive federal grants to help pull itself into better standing.Chestnut Ridge Middle School has secured $2.4 million to implement an educational framework that focuses more on college and career readiness. Among the eight East Ramapo schools designated by the state as troubled earlier this year, Chestnut Ridge ranked the worst and was marked as a priority school.

In total, the state Education Department is disbursing $95 million to priority schools – ones that have been identified as struggling for a number of years based on exam results or graduate rates –  to improve within three years, the agency announced earlier this week.

Read more…

Strong East Ramapo Report on 9/28/16 Meeting With Commissioner Elia re: ERCSD Academic & Spending Plan

The following is a recap by Andrew Mandel of Strong East Ramapo of the 2 hour public meeting at the Cultural Arts Center:
Hi everyone,
In case you missed tonight’s RCC two-hour public meeting with Commissioner Elia and Monitors John Sipple and Chuck Szuberla (featuring Chancellor of the Board of Regents Betty Rosa in the audience), here are some highlights:

— Full house! At one point, seats were hard to come by in the Cultural Arts Center. Bravo to parents — many of whom have kindergarteners — for making your presence felt.

— Full-day K is great for this year, but what’s up for next year? Chuck Szuberla indicated that he and John Sipple will prioritize the financial planning necessary to ensure that the district is not introducing programs one year only to eliminate them the following year. Commissioner Elia reiterated the point by saying it is a goal for full-day kindergarten to return again next year.  The crowd applauded upon hearing that.

— Facilities are also a major concern, and Commissioner Elia and Dr. Wortham urged passage of an upcoming $52M bond. Dr. Wortham indicated that the
bond would cost each household an additional $15 per year.

— Several people raised questions about the use of substitute teachers, as well as overflowing class sizes, and Commissioner Elia and Dr. Wortham said these issues are being worked out now. Dr. Wortham indicated that there was some sudden influx of high school students that apparently was not anticipated. (I want to learn more about this.)

— Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee noted that she’s going to sponsor legislation to restore Sabrina Charles-Pierre’s full term in office.

— Dr. Wortham sidestepped a question about gifted and talented programs by saying that the schools assess and differentiate their instruction (which is not the same as a pull-out program for students identified as gifted and talented).

— Several attendees asked questions about the investigation of proper use of funds for non-public schools; Elia said the monitors would be investigating.

— Commissioner Elia agreed that the current level of performance for English language learners was unacceptable (two percent proficiency in 3rd-8th grade English and math) and that the state would be lending its own expertise to addressing the needs of these students.

— Chuck Szuberla said that the goal is not to balance the budget, but to ensure a high-quality education for all children. (Good answer, Chuck!) His cell phone number is: 518-410-7456 in case you need to text him.

— Luis Nivelo ended the evening by pointing out that, despite this step of progress, the issue of trust remains. He then asked for comments from the stoic President Yehuda Weissmandl, who did not speak. “When we have no trust, we have no respect,” Luis said.

The Journal News has already posted a piece recapping the evening as well.
I will be meeting with Dr. Wortham tomorrow to learn more about the $2.4 million federal grant for Chestnut Ridge Middle School, so I’ll share more once I synthesize my notes.
Good night,

NYS Press Release 9/26/16: Commissioner Elia Approves Academic & Spending Plan for ERCSD

Today, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced the approval of East
Ramapo Central School District’s Long-Term Strategic Academic and
Expenditure Plans.  She stated:  “I hereby approve the improvement and expenditure
plans, which include plans to implement full-day kindergarten
classrooms and the hiring of both monolingual and bilingual
kindergarten teachers; the restoration of art, music, dance and
theater classes in grades K-6; clear performance objectives for
students; and increased professional development.”

See Full Press Release Below.